The homeoprotein Six1 is overexpressed in many human cancers and is associated with increased tumor progression and metastasis. Recent studies have shown that Six1 is associated with poorer overall survival in advanced-stage colorectal cancer (CRC). In the current study, we explored the functional changes and molecular events associated with Six1 overexpression in a mouse model of CRC. An orthotopic model and a splenic injection metastasis model were used to investigate the role of Six1 in CRC tumor growth and metastasis using mouse colon adenocarcinoma MC38 cells overexpressing Six1. We found that overexpression of Six1 dramatically promotes CRC tumor growth and metastasis in vivo. Six1 overexpression in MC38 increased protein levels of aldehyde dehydrogenase-1 and expanded CD44+/CD166+ populations, indicating Six1 increased features of cancer stem cells. In addition, Six1 overexpression stimulated angiogenesis by upregulating the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Six1-overexpressing tumor cells recruited tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) by increasing the expression of macrophage-specific colony stimulating factor, chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 2/5 and VEGF, further facilitating CRC tumor growth and metastasis. Furthermore, we determined that Six1 activated mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling in CRC cells. In summary, our studies strongly suggest that Six1 overexpression promotes CRC growth and metastasis and remodels tumor stroma by stimulating angiogenesis and recruiting TAM. MAPK activation may be a pivotal event in Six1-associated tumor progression, which may provide opportunities for pharmacologic intervention.

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